How To Make Fear Your Friend

Fear is an old friend of mine, and much of the common advice — be bold, you’re a rock star, and variations on YOLO/IDGAF — for me did not produce reliable results.

Why? Because like many people working hard to get a result, it wasn’t always obvious to me that fear was my sticking point to begin with. Instead, I would focus on what I was afraid of, and I would cleverly try to “fix” it—but oftentimes this just gave my fears a lot of time and energy when they were beyond my control.

Once I became aware of my fears, I could also see my go-to fear fixing strategies including lone wolfing, endless research, undershooting my goals, and perfectionism. I never realized that these things were on some level, fear reactions. If I didn’t do them, I’d be much more powerful and much happier.

Step 1 to dealing with fear is knowing and accepting when and why we’re experiencing it. For some, it can be subconsciously omnipresent, a fogginess around all of our actions and energy.

The nice thing is, knowing and accepting our fears once we pinpoint them actually requires very little time on our part. There are reasons behind what scares us which it may support you to look at since they create patterns and they’re different for everyone. Ultimately though fear itself happens in the moment.

Pause for 5–15 seconds to think about something you want, something significant requiring you to grow or step up. Then, list all the fears you have around it — getting it, not getting it, how you’ll get it and the implications.

Once you have clarity you can move more intelligently through it. Without this awareness, fears tend to come out sideways, hurting us or someone else (hurting us includes reducing our effectiveness). To move through it with less ado, practice welcoming the fear as an old friend, putting it aside for the moment and immediately taking one step toward your goal. This is much healthier and easier than common strategies of forceful pushing, pandering to the fear and thereby reinforcing it (e.g. through over-functioning or perfectionism), or by pretending it’s not there.

To recap, to deal with career-related fears (or any fear really) try the following 3-step process:

  1. Ask, what am I afraid of? With a sense of curiosity and openness.
  2. Acknowledge and welcome the fear as an old friend (or a new and interesting one).
  3. Immediately after acknowledging the fear, turn your attention to the very next thing for you to do to reach your goal. In other words, pivot your attention once your fear is tended to, without judgment or rejection.

Usually a little acknowledgement is all our fear needs and wants. And like most emotions, fear subsides when we acknowledge and accept that it’s there and don’t have lots of BS stories around it. In other words, our fear is totally normal and human. There is nothing “wrong.” A big caveat is if our fear stems from unhealed wounds and trauma — these are better suited to partnership with a mental health professional.

At the end of the day our fear is designed to be good for us. In its own way, it cares — even if it’s off base or it cares far too much.

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Psychologist, success coach, believer in solid behavioral science and the power of tuning in.

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